A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

or CARACALLUS. The genealogy of this emperor and of many other historical personages will be readily understood from the following table. An account of each individual is given in its proper alphabetical place.

Caracalla or Caracallus, son of Septimius Severus and his second wife Julia Domna, was born at Lyons on the 4th or 6th of April, A. D. 188. while his father was governor of Gallia Lugdunensis. The child was originally called Bassianus after his maternal grandfather, but when Severus thought fit to declare himself the adopted offspring of M. Aurelius, he at the same time changed the name of his boy to M. Aurelius Antoninus, a designation retained by him ever after. Caracalla or Caracallus, which never appears on medals or inscriptions, was a nickname derived from a long tunic or great coat with a hood, worn by the Gauls, which he adopted as his favourite dress after he became emperor, and introduced into the army. These vestments found great favour, especially among the lower orders, and were known as Antoninianae Caracallae.

Young Bassianus is said to have been remarkable in early life for a gentle and pleasing address. At this period he was beloved alike by his parents and the people, and displayed no indication of that ferocious temper which subsequently rendered him the scourge of the world. At the age of eight (196) he received the title of Caesar and Princeps Juventutis, in Maesia, while his father was marching from the East to encounter Albinus, and the year following (197) he was admitted an extraordinary member of the pontifical college. After the overthrow of Albinus, we find him styled Destinatus Imperator; and in 198, when ten years old, he was invested with the tribunician power, and created Augustus. He accompanied Sevenis in the expedition against the Parthians, sharing his victories and honours, put on the manly gown at Antioch in 201, entered upon his first consulship in 202, and, returning through Egypt to Rome, was married in the course of a few months to Plautilla, daughter of Plautianus, the praetorian praefect. The political events from this date until the death of Severus, which took place at York, on the 4th of February, A. D. 211, are given in the life of that prince, whose acuteness and worldly knowledge were so conspicuous, that he could not, under any circumstances, have failed to fathom the real character of his son, who assuredly was little of a hypocrite. But, although the youth was known to have tampered with the troops, and once, it is said, was detected in an open attempt to assassinate his father, no punishment was inflicted, and parental fondness prevented the feeble old man from taking any steps which might save the empire from being cursed with such a ruler. Geta, however, was named joint heir of the throne, having been previously elevated to the rank of consul and dignified with the appellations of Caesar and Augustus.

The great object of Caracalla was now the destruction of this colleague, towards whom he entertained the most deadly hatred. Having failed in persuading the army to set aside the claims of his rival, he, on various occasions, sought his life secretly while they were journeying from Britain to Rome with the ashes of their father; but these treacherous schemes were all frustrated by the vigilance of Geta, who was well aware of his danger, and fear of the soldiery prevented open violence. A pretended reconciliation now took place: they entered the city together, together bestowed a donative

on the guards and the people, and a negotiation was commenced for a peaceful partition of the empire. But the passions of Caracalla could no longer be restrained. During an interview held in the chamber of Julia, soldiers, who had been craftily concealed, rushed forth and stabbed the younger son of the empress in his mother's arms, while the elder not only stood by and encouraged, but with his own hands assisted in completing the deed. The murderer sought to appease the irritated troops by pretending that he had only acted in self-defence; but was eventually compelled to purchase their forbearance by distributing among them the whole wealth accumulated during his father's reign. The senate he treated with wellmerited contempt, and, feeling now secure, proceeded to glut his vengeance by massacring all whom he suspected of having favoured the pretensions or pitied the fate of Geta, whose name was forthwith erased from the public monuments. The number of persons sacrificed is said to have amounted to twenty thousand of both sexes, among the number of whom was Papinianus, the celebrated jurist. But these crimes brought their own retribution. From this moment Caracalla seems never to have enjoyed tranquillity for a single hour. Never were the terrors of an evil conscience more fearfully displayed. After endeavouring in vain to banish remorse by indulgence in all the dissolute pleasures of Rome, by chariot-racing and gladiatorial shows and wild beast hunts, to each of which in turn he devoted himself with frantic eagerness; after grinding the citizens to the earth by taxes and extortions of every description; and after plundering the whole world to supply the vast sums lavished on these amusements and on his soldiers, he resolved if possible to escape from himself by change of place. Wandering with restless activity from land to land, he sought to drown the recollection of his past guilt by fresh enormities. Gaul, Germany, Dacia, Thrace, Asia, Syria, and Egypt, were visited in succession, and were in succession the scene of varied and complicated atrocities. His sojourn at Alexandria was marked by a general slaughter of the inhabitants, in order to avenge certain sarcastic pleasantries in which they had indulged against himself and his mother; and the numbers of the slain were so great, that no one ventured to make known the amount, but orders were given to cast the bodies instantly into deep trenches, that the extent of the calamity might be more effectually concealed. The Greeks now believed that the furies of his brother pursued him with their scourges. It is certain that his bodily health became seriously affected, and his intellects evidently deranged. He was tormented by fearful visions, and the spectres of his father and the murdered Geta stood by him, in the dead of night, with swords pointed to his bosom. Believing himself spell-bound by the incantations of his foes, he had recourse to strange rites in order to evoke the spirits of the dead, that from them he might seek a remedy for his tortures; but it was said that none would answer to his call except the kindred soul of Commodus. At last, he sought the aid of the gods, whom he importuned by day and night with prayers and many victims; but no deity would vouchsafe a word of comfort to the fraticide.

While in this excited and unhappy condition, he demanded in marriage the daughter of Artabanus, the Parthian king; but the negotiation having been abruptly broken off, he suddenly passed the Euphrates in hostile array. The enemy were totally unprepared to resist an invasion so unexpected, and could offer no effectual resistance. Mesopotamia was wasted with fire and sword, Arbela was captured, and the emperor, after digging up the sepulchres of the Parthian kings and scattering their bones, returned to winter at Edessa. Having treacherously gained possession of the person of Abgarus, king of the Osroeni, he seized upon his territory, and took the field in spring with the intention of carrying his arms beyond the Tigris. His course was first directed towards Carrhae, that he might offer homage at a celebrated shrine of the Moondeity in that neighbourhood; but during the march he was assassinated, at the instigation of Macrinus, the praetorian praefect, by a veteran named Martialis, on the 8th of April, 217, in the thirtieth year of his age and the seventh of his reign.

The chronology of the last years of Caracalla is full of difficulty, and it is almost impossible to arrange the different events recorded in their proper order with anything like certainty. We hear of an expedition against the Alemanni and another against the Getae. The former, commemorated by the epithet Germanicus, terminated in a purchased peace; the latter appears to have been partially successful. The portion of Dio Cassius which refers to this period consists of disjointed and imperfect chapters, between which we can seldom establish any connexion. They contain, however, much curious information, to which considerable additions have been made by the fragments recently discovered by Mai. Dion tells us, that after death Caracalla was usually spoken of under the insulting name of Tarantus, taken from a gladiator remarkable from his short stature, ugly features, and sanguinary disposition. The historian himself, having explained this term (78.9), invariably employs it in the subsequent portions of his work.

We must not omit to observe, that Gibbon, following Spanheim and Bunnann, ascribes to Caracalla the important edict which communicated to all free inhabitants of the empire the name and privileges of Roman citizens, while several ancient authors attribute this document to M. Aurelius. The truth seems to be, that M. Aurelius was the author of a very broad and liberal measure in favour of the provincials, clogged, however, by certain conditions and restrictions which were swept away by Caracalla, in order that he night introduce an uniform system of taxation and extort a larger revenue in return for a worthless privilege.

(Dio Cass. Ixxvii. lxxviii.; Herodian. iv.; Spartian. Vit. Caracall.; Aurel. Vict. Epit. xxi., Caes. xxi.; Eutrop. xxi.; Gruter, Corp. Inscr. pp. cxci. cclxvii. ccc. milxxxv.; Gibbon, chap. vi.; Joh. P. Mahneri, Comm. de Marc. Aur. Antonino Constitution. de Civitate Universo Orbi Romanae data, Hall. 1772, quoted by Wenck; comp. Milman's Gibbon, vol. i. p. 281.) A coin of Caracalla's, which has been accidentally omitted here, is given under his brother GETA.